Firing up London food enthusiasm with its charred smokiness and grilling methods is the robata grill; robata being a new buzz word on the food scene it seems. And, whilst unpredictable smatterings of rain are leading to our summer BBQ dreams to be quashed, the robata grill has taken the reigns on grilled food, with restaurants inclusive of Thousand Knives, Bala Baya, Meraki and more putting the robata on our radars.
Short for robatayaki (meaning “fireside grilling”), the robata is a Japanese creation that uses wood or charcoal to create a smoking hot, glowing burn that produces sensational flavours and one Soho restaurant has achieved a undeniable steal where restaurant name is concerned. ROBATA in Soho allowed me to visit Japan and its vibrant food scene on a Sunday afternoon as I lived vicariously through its foreign influence. The new restaurant seeks to pop Asian flair on par with 21st century creativity using its robata charcoal cooking methods, championing sharing plates and their famed robata skewers.
At the helm? Head Chef Charles Lee, whose influence has seeped across various Michelin starred restaurants. A peek at the menu, made predominantly for sharing, allows the customers to recognise his strong command of Asian cuisines through the creativity of ingredients used. The izakaya-style restaurant flaunts impressive qualities; a position on Old Compton Street being one of them, as well as its ability to cater for large parties and small and intimate gatherings all the same. The look is one sexy simplicity; booths are available for snug skewer scoffing and window seats provide cinema views of busy Soho-ians flitting about the fascinating foodie scene. Or, for a more immersive experience, position yourself at the counter and feel the heat – quite literally.
The menu is divided into raw dishes, small plates, robata skewers, bao buns and large dishes cooked on the grill, but whatever you get we recommend washing it down with a sake-based cocktail. Dishes I’d recommend trying, as you wade through a saliva-inducing menu, are the bao buns which ROBATA do with such prowess. In flavours of fried chicken, braised short ribs, soft shell crab it’s such a spongey, flavoursome dream that excites the tastebuds for the dishes to follow. Skewers are a must; they’re the restaurant’s signature, and use impressive cuts of meat cooked over hot charcoal.
I made my way through the asparagus skewers with sweet sesame soy and sesame seed and chased it with king oyster mushroom skewers with sansho pepper and chipotle glaze. However, upon my return I’d have the hand dived skewers again, with apple and kizami wasabi – the flavours partnered perfectly on the palette, and you could really make out a smokiness fresh from the grill. Other highlights included the kimchi rice with nori, spring onion and fried egg, and the Atlantic cod, presented charmingly with flavours of spicy saikyo miso and pickled edamame beans. A further signature dish which I didn’t try this time around is the wood flamed Iberico pork plums which, given the popularity of Iberico pork, is an exciting gamble.
Sunday to one side, we were hair of the dog-esque diving into cocktails; the Ume Ocha (Umeshu plum sake, pineapple juice, and peach liqueur and Sakura tea foam) blew my socks off with its encyclopaedic flavours as did the Shoga Asahi, (Frangelico, ginger syrup, fresh ginger, topped up with draught Asahi). There’s a booming Sake list and, for your own sake, we suggest trying some…
As a final word, I enjoyed ROBATA and believe it’ll make a charming new addition to Soho’s busy food scene. Due to the speedy service and delivery of food I’d recommend popping in for a lunch or meeting as it’s fine food that’s formidable for a quick-fix. I look forward to watching ROBATA progress, and for other restaurants to jump aboard its influence.
ROBATA can be found at 56 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 4UE, www.robata.co.uk